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Entries in photography (10)


Interview: Brant Slomovic

Posted By Aletheia Photos

During our recent submissions call we were overwhelmed by the quality of work from photographers across the globe. 

As a small thank you to some of the shortlisted photographers that took the time to share their portfolios we are running a series of interviews with them to find out more about their work and motivations.

In our first interview Zun Lee speaks with Brant Slomovic.

Brant Slomovic (b.1970, Montreal) began his formal study of photography at age fourteen, and upon graduating from high school was awarded the Departmental Prize in Art. He then quit!

After a lengthy hiatus during which he completed his medical training, specializing in emergency medicine, he began making photographs again. Brant traveled extensively in the course of re-learning his craft. Sometimes, however, one finds clarity closest to home.

At a Magnum Photos workshop during the Contact Festival in Toronto he rediscovered his first passion: documentary photography.

Brant lives and works in Toronto. He had his first solo exhibit of Glengarry in 2011 at the Toronto Image Works Gallery. Most recently he was featured as a Contender in the 2012 Hey, Hot Shot! International Photography Competition and in the Collection at Flak Photo.

His current personal projects include Shinny, which details the ubiquity of shinny Hockey in Canadian culture, and Puja, which explores daily rituals of spirituality in Indian life.

(Images featured in this post are from Brant's Shinny series)

Luke. Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. © Brant Slomovic

You’ve made your career as an ER physician. In your day-to-day work, you have to make a lot of simultaneous observations and difficult decisions under great pressure. How has being this kind of medical professional influenced the way you see and work in terms of photography?

I don’t necessarily see a direct influence. But there are so many skills you acquire in learning the practice of medicine that inadvertently apply to other areas of life. For me, the most important of which are how to communicate openly, with compassion, with people you barely know, work ethic, and perseverance.

In terms of image making, I really hope I am not as “intense” as I can be in the setting of the emergency department. In critical situations we are trained to shut off emotion to a degree and often things become formulaic, so as insure you address the most life-threatening issue first. I aspire to be the opposite when making images: emotionally engaged and intuitive.

Ste. Agathe Des Monts, Quebec. © Brant Slomovic

How have things changed for you as you rediscovered your love for photography after you had put your passion aside to focus on building a life and career?

Well, it is sort of like starting over from the beginning, except that I’ve retained a certain amount of my knowledge and experience. Re-discovery can be a fantastic thing though. I realized immediately, when I picked up the camera again, that this is very much a part of who I am and that making images would become as much of a priority as anything else.

Do you have any photographic mentors or masters of the past or present that you feel influenced by? Who are they and what draws you to them?

The short answer is many. When I was first starting out, in my early teens, I was very much engrossed in the masters: Cartier-Bresson, Karsh and Avedon, Eggleston, Jodi Cobb. Now they seem more appropriate for study or historic exploration, as opposed to directly influencing what I do. As for the present, there are so many contemporary image makers whose work I love and in which I find inspiration. Some names that come to mind are: Christopher Anderson, Mark Power, Simon Roberts, Nadav Kander, Massimo Vitali. I think I have said this before, elsewhere, but I am very much drawn to photographers who marry personal work and commissioned work seamlessly.

Denver. Plaster Rock, New Brunswick © Brant Slomovic

There are few things more quintessentially Canadian as the game of Shinny, yet as Canada continues to grow and diversify, the notion of what it means to be Canadian also continues to evolve. How do you personally relate to the game of Shinny, and how do you see its role in the formation of a “Canadian identity” today? What did this mean in terms of how you approached the Shinny project?

Shinny, for me, represents my childhood. It’s what we did as kids, all the time, on the street or at the local park, and it wasn’t limited to winter or weather permitting. I’m pretty sure I had a few cases of low grade frostbite from some of those long Saturdays. It was also the way we lived out our childhood fantasies, in my case, playing for the Montreal Canadiens. I think this is not too dissimilar from what so many Canadians have experienced, whether you are Sidney Crosby or a new immigrant to Canada. Which brings me to the second part of the question. I see shinny as something that unifies a whole lot of people. For new immigrants, I think it’s an inroad to feeling Canadian. This is an angle on the Shinny Project that I find particularly interesting, since so much of how hockey is portrayed in the media is as a sport of white men.

Granby, Quebec. © Brant Slomovic

How did you select the kinds of subjects you gravitated towards? What caught your eye and was there a certain look and feel you were after? Did this change as the project went on? How difficult was it to approach your subjects and get them to participate?

Much of the project was pre-visualized, so to speak. As soon as I started to work on the concept, I was flooded with ideas and images I wanted to make. Many of those were originally influenced by the rich tradition in Quebec of painting hockey scenes. The work of artists like John Little, Terry Tomalty and Miyuki Tanobe had a strong impact in shaping those ideas. That said, the direction of the project has changed since I first started. I find my own voice and sensibility emerging more strongly as the body of the work builds. Also, I am enjoying the portrait aspect of the project more that I expected. As for subjects, I usually get a good sense of who I’m interested in as a subject as I approach a location and just observe for a while, someone usually declares themselves.

George Stroumboulopoulos. Toronto, Ontario. © Brant Slomovic

There is an undeniable connection you achieve in your portraiture. Are you more of an interactive shooter? Or do you prefer to observe and let the subject’s energy and personality come through organically?

Well, first of all, thank you, that’s a huge compliment. I really prefer to let people be themselves and try not to dictate to much with these portraits. “Organically” is a great choice of words and something I hope to achieve. If something is not working or I think the scene demands something specific I will may make a gentle suggestion. 

Please tell us more about how you operate once you’ve decided to approach a subject on or near an ice rink.

I am pretty upfront and honest in my approach. I introduce myself and tell them about what I am doing. Most people are interested and very open to the idea. Everybody has a story and people love to talk about sport, last night’s game, et cetera. The door opens quite naturally as I am setting up my gear or taking a light meter reading and a connection usually happens before I make the first image.

Verdun, Quebec. © Brant Slomovic

As you traveled the country to make photographs for Shinny, did you observe any local/regional peculiarities? Did you find different life philosophies influencing how people view themselves with respect to being Canadian? How did this manifest on the ice?

In general, and I know that this is playing into the cliché, but Canadians are really nice. I can’t comment much on regional peculiarities as Shinny Project is quite young and my locations have been limited to a handful of cities or towns. I will just say that I am very honoured that almost everyone I have approached to participate has been totally positive and a pleasure to work with.

What have you learned about yourself during this project, and how have you incorporated these insights into this project?

I learned that I should be bringing my skates and a stick to locations more often. Seriously, I’ve learned how to be more patient, mostly. The images will come, in their own time, as long as I really focus on being present with my subjects and within the space I am making photographs. With experience I think I’ve also learned how to better manage my expectations, specifically when things aren’t happening as I thought, or conditions aren’t ideal.

Aymar. Montreal, Quebec. © Brant Slomovic

Can you tell us about other projects in progress, and how you go about working on them? Are they similar in theme to Shinny, or completely different?

The Last Survivors is a documentary work about holocaust survivors. It is dramatically different than Shinny Project. It has been more of a challenge to meet potential subjects and when I do, the entire encounter is so much more delicate and requires great sensitivity on many levels. I am also much more invested in the people and their stories. The story is a focal point of the encounter and I am recording interviews to go along with the project in addition to making portraits. There is an intimacy and trust that I feel I have tapped into with The Last Survivors that I never thought I could achieve. The generosity of the survivors I have met has been very humbling and the stories are just unbelievable.

In terms of similarities, I am drawn to long term projects that examine aspects of culture, whether it be the culture of a small Canadian town, as in Glengarry or the culture of holocaust survivors.


Behind the Photo: Jordan, a nice step away 

Posted By Ross Domoney

in 2011, I was lucky enough to venture to Jordan, helping a friend film a documentary. This trip could not of come at a more needed time. I had just finished a second cut of the footage I had shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo a few months prior. I was feeling a bit depressed after my brain had begun to process the horrible stories we filmed in DRC, and I needed a break and to step away from editing. I appreciated the chance to go to a new place and focus on photography again. It wasnt until just recently that I got these pictures processed. They were shot on my Hassleblad, which I must say - I have a love-hate relationship with. It is a beautiful camera but the hassle and finances it costs me are ghastly. The aperture blades on the lens jam quite often and ends up costing a fortune to fix. The processing and scanning ends up being just as damaging.

But all this aside, the satisfaction (through it's high quality format) I feel when I get the pictures back from the lab is awesome. The picture above is of a Bedouin tribes man in the northern Jordanian desert. We spent most of our time in Jordan with this Bedouin community, who offered us such kind hospitality. I can't imagine what they must have thought of us with our high tech camera gear and sun cream. It was still blisteringly hot in Jordan and most of the labour work could only be done early in the morning, or at dusk. This was perfect for taking photos. That night, as we stayed with them, a surreal scene took place as we were trying to sleep. The desert was respectfully silent, but after sometime we noticed menacing shadows passing the tents accompanied with sinister gnarling sounds. The shadows were from wild dogs in the desert, quite big ones on the prowl for food. Their choice of food that night were chickens. We slept to the crude sound of chickens falling victim to their hungry chops.

The photo above is from Wadi Rum desert in the south, one of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen. It is the location that Laurence of Arabia was filmed and it felt like I was on Mars. We moved around by Jeep, riding dunes stopping for chai, and climbing rocks. The desert again was silent, but there were these shrubs that we came across that, when you put your ear close to it, would reveal the sound of a mighty wind. That sound was caught in the skeleton of the shrub,  once you pulled your ear away, all would fall silent again.

That day we met a local who was trying to impress his newlywed wife by driving up a sand dune. He managed to fail 4 times in a row, before giving it one last determined try. He floored it towards the sand dune and kind of ended up driving halfway through it and not up it. His poor car suffered for this and his bumper lay in the sand in tatters.

After witnessing this act of defiance, a friend and I decided to go for a walk to get some pictures. You know those kind of walks where you get more and more excited and end up walking further and further away. We lost sight of the group we were with, as well as the trashed 4x4 which did not make it up the sand dune. As the sun was setting, we figured it was wise to head back before we really would struggle to find them. As we were strolling back, we heard gun shots. Upon our arrival, we learnt that the local who trashed his car, was kind enough to fire his pistol in the air numerous times so that we could track their location. I guess this did kind of work.

Soon enough the local left in his bumperless car, and after sometime we decided to leave too. We rode back to the camp we were staying in, hanging onto the side bars of the land cruiser we were traveling in. As we pulled up to the camp, once again we heard shots ringing through the air. Once inside the camp, we saw that the same local was trying to impress a waiter by shooting holes in the toilet door. The waiter patiently urged the man to put his gun back in his tent, which he did hastily. I must say this was to some extent a relief as we discovered the man had been drinking quite heavily. 

The above photo was taken back with the kind Bedouins who let us stay with them. In this you see the fathers eyes are red from the sand. My poor cameras got creamed with sand at times, their very worst nightmare indeed. Throughout my time spent in Jordan, there were so many peaceful moments in silence, under the stars or the sun, I relished this silence. 

This humble man used to be a royal guard for the Jordanian monarch. After leaving his post he headed back into the desert. This kind man took a liking to me, and we often had a broken conversation through hand gestures which was most enjoyable. I love this about traveling, you often feel like you are playing charades, it most normally ends in laughter. 

On the last morning with the Bedouin tribe, I took this photo. The ladies face caught my attention, I was mesmerised to take a photo. I was unsure as whether to approach her or not, I did not see men talk to the women a lot whilst we were there. And it felt as though there was perhaps some kind of restriction for us to do so too. When this woman was alone tending to some goats, I felt more confident to approach her. I had no means of communicating with her other than to approach slowly, kindly and point at my camera with a little grin. She didn't nod a yes or a no. There was a silence, but it did not make me feel awkward. After a few seconds, she reflected a small smile back to me. I slowly put my eye to my camera and snapped a frame. 

That night I had one of my fondest outdoor memories. We left the Bedouin camp for my friends uncle's house, it was pitch black and I was with a close friend. We were offered a lift in a Toyota pick up truck, the door was opened for us but we refused to get in, we wanted to lie in the back, which turned out to be a monumental idea. The car left the camp and we were out in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. We lay on our backs looking straight up at the stars. They were the best stars I have seen in years. There was hardly any moon, and no cars on the road to distract from the stars. As we were moving, the silhouettes of the mountains would move with the night sky. We had about an hour of this with no distractions until our friends caught up with us and their headlights ended the show. For me, looking back over these photos - although not capturing all the memories I have described, it certainly reminded me of the nice step away I had in Jordan. 

Photo stories by Ross Domoney

A Tale of Two Cities - by Ross Domoney  

Brasov is considered to be one of Romania's most important cities. A place of utmost historical importance since the times of the medieval days. It is situated at the crossroads of the country's trade routes, which has always given it significant economic influence. 

Since Romania's violent revolution of 1989 it has continually grown as a cultural and economic centre. This growth makes Brasov today a modern cosmopolitan city in a diverse location, with beautiful architecture, modern shopping centers and intensive social as well as cultural activity. Central Brasov is a perfect example of how the European Union would like tourists to see Romania. However, not far from this merry colorful picture, there is another one: Grey and poverty ridden. A few kilometers away from Brasov town centre, an old man indicates the way to a Roma village. In Zizin, there is no trace of modernity or welfare.


British Nationalism - By Ross Domoney

The EDL (English Defence League) are a  protest group formed as a direct response to a much publicised protest held by Islamic Fundamentalists, which disrupted a homecoming parade held for returning British soldiers in Luton in March 2009. The Group which has tenuous ties to the BNP, and various football hooligan firms, denies it is a racist, fascist movement. Ross Domoney has been following the rapid rise of the EDL which has become a disturbing symbol of the power of grass roots movements.                             


Greece On Strike - By Ross Domoney  

A documentation of one of the seven general strikes which took place in Greece last year amongst escalating social unrest caused by the economic uncertainty, rising unemployment and the ever fading trust between the political classes and the population. Prior to May 5th – 2010, Prime Minister George Papandreou passed on the controversial IMF/EU bail out package in an attempt to pull Greece out of it’s soaring debt. In exchange for this 110 billion euro bail out package, the government put plans in place to cut public spending such as wages and raise taxes. The number of protesters who took to the streets of Athens on May 5th is unclear - some say 100,000, while others say up to 500,000. A large group of these protesters attempted to storm parliament as police battled to keep them from doing so.




Market Town : David : Postcards from the black

Posted By: J.A. Mortram

I’d met Eugene in the street a couple of years ago. Her style standing out, looking like every woman I remember as a child in the 1970s. We would stop and talk whenever our paths crossed in town, until late last summer when Eugene disappeared.

For months I would ask the few people I thought might know if all was well. No one knew a thing. No news. No news. Then one afternoon during a casual chat I asked again if anyone had sight or sound of Eugene and was told her son had been involved in an accident and was blinded as a result of the trauma. I was more than shocked.

The little I had learned of Eugene had never included the topic of children and to learn that she was indeed a mother and now involved in this awful tragedy, at 86, dismayed me terribly.

Weeks later I saw her coming towards me in town. Behind her, holding the belt of her winter coat, was a tall man. Both were braced against the wind. I realised it was Eugene and her son. We spoke and as I learned more, I realised that her son, David, was a figure I had seen around town since I was 12 or 13, and suddenly these two were thrown together in my mind, two seemingly separate figures now placed together.

David at home December 2012 image © J.A. Mortram

David had been very active. Walking, cycling. My memories of him were his always cycling past me as I would walk into town. The summer before last the bag he was wearing over his shoulder had come loose, entangled in the front wheel of his bicycle and he had been thrown over the handlebars, face-first to the road, breaking his upper jaw and neck in two places. “I was choking on the blood,” he told me.

“In the ambulance they got a bucket and it poured out of my mouth… so much blood! I could still see then… right up until I fell into a coma.” 

David was taken to the hospital; bones mended, wounds healed, but the obstruction of a feeding and air tube in his mouth prevented his being able to alert nurses or doctors that his sight had vanished for almost a week after awaking from the coma.

“One of the strangest things is waking up from a dream. In dreams I can still see. I can see everything. I wake and feel I can still see for a time, then the black seeps in and I realise I am awake and in darkness again, where the reality used to be filled with sight, now my dreams are. Where sleep was without light, now that’s my waking life. Everything is upside down. Now being awake is like the dream. My awake nightmare”

"It's black when I get up it's terrible really because it's dawn but it's pitch black for me so it's pretty dreadful. I wake up and no longer feel sleepy and if I didn't have a talking clock I wouldn't know what time it was, I wouldn't know if it was dawn or anything.The worst part of it I think is just before you're going to get out of bed first thing in the morning and you've got to face another day and you can't see a thing. It's pretty frightening really. You have an inclination to not want to get out of bed at all and just stay there as you're sort of safe in bed as there's not much that can happen to you there.

I was always working outdoors, I never worked inside. I worked on farms a long time back and it was mostly laboring work, very physical work. I didn't mind the work but Mother used to mutter and say that it was demeaning and that sort of thing but it did not really bother me doing that sort of work. Mother used to complain and nag me a bit about it though.

I suppose I would have done something else if I could have done but sometimes you don't always get a choice in life do you? Once you start on a path you're not allowed to come off of it, you've got to do that, stay on that path and if you don't do well, that's it, there will be some sort of to do.
People just say 'You're this and you've got to do this, you be this now and must not be anything else don't they?."

David brushing his teeth in the kitchen sink before embarking on his daily walk.

"I get up and have to find my clothes and put them on, I've sort of got used to doing that. Then I come down stairs and usually my Mother gets down here a bit before me, I get up for around 8am and she gets up a bit sooner and I have some cereals, then a shave and brush my teeth. Then I've got this brick that I lift over and over again, for my hands and arms to try and keep some strength in them so I don't get weak.

Then usually I go out the front of the house and go up and down with my stick to try and get some exercise and fresh air. I go out there for about an hour to an hour and a quarter depending on the weather. I come back in again and sometimes I have a lay down for about 20 minutes then we have something to eat, that depends on what we have got. Sometimes it's just a bit of toast and some cheese or if Mother's been into town and got some sausages and beans then we have some sausages and beans. You can't eat them on a plate too well when you can't see so I put them in a high bowl so then I can eat the beans with a spoon and stick a fork in the sausages, hold them up and bite a piece off that way."

Getting ready putting layers of warm clothes onMentally preparing himself to venture and brave the world outside the safety of the front door again.

"I'd be happier really if I could walk somewhere more secluded and I could do the same thing but without any people watching me do it. I feel humiliated but I want to be out in the fresh air and there's nowhere else and no other way to get it."

"When I go out the front of the house for my walk I just follow the walls so I can touch the bottom of them with my long stick. When I reach the end of the houses where the shingle is, I can feel the shingle with the stick, I've got to know the feel of it, so then I know I've reached the end (of the row of houses) and I turn around and come back, all in all it's about 100 meters. You've got to keep touching the walls and the edge of the pavement all the time so you know where's safe to avoid the road and all the cars."

"There's not much I think about when I go for my walks as I can't see anything, I just hope all the time that there's going to be as few people as possible come along. I feel very self conscious and kind of humiliated because I can't get about like other people and I have to go about like this and I don't like it but it's either I do that or I don't get any exercise for my legs or ever get out in the air. I've got nowhere else to go.  

Sometimes there's a lot of cars that drive along here and a few months back there were a few quarrels as people were saying they could not drive up on the pavement because I was out there but they are not supposed to driving up on the pavement are they?, they are supposed to stick to the roads."

Returning to the front door of home.Warming up by the bar heater with a cup of soup after the morning's hour long walk.

"It's (blindness) really affected the type of things I think about. There are no new images coming into life for me now, all the images I do have are in my head and are from before the accident so I suppose I get further and further out of date with the images in my mind. I find myself remembering more memories as I have no new things to see.

When you are able to see new things you keep adding them to your memory but when you don't see anything new anymore you've got no visual experiences to make these new memories because I'm never going to see anything ever again.

All my new memories since I've gone blind are dark, black and just the sensation of having to feel my way around in the dark or just other peoples voices. I've no idea really what people look like, my mind just kind of makes up an image. I don't know why but I just sort of see someone and make up what another person might look like. These imaginations probably have nothing to do at all with what the person actually looks like. That's how I experience other people now.

I think a lot more about the past now than I ever used to, when I was a boy. I don't necessarily remember incidents more places where I used to be. More memories of places than of people. I see pictures in my mind when I remember. The images in my mind are lighter in my mind now as all I can actually see now is blackness and when I think back everything is lit up so my memories are a lot more vivid.

It's all in my mind of course, nothing to do with my sight but when I visit my memories there is a light in the darkness. What happens is nearly every night I still dream and there is light then. I can see the daylight when I'm dreaming and then I wake up I'm blind. Whatever time of the day it is when I'm awake it's always night now.

It's a terrible thing in a way because when I dream I don't know I'm blind, I'm seeing and I'm not blind when I'm dreaming then I wake up and I'm me again and I'm blind. My dreams are a pleasure but when I wake up it's so much worse. It's always a shock when I wake up from having a dream and it hits me again - I'm blind.

It pulls me down. The dreams when I wake from them they seem to make everything blacker, the darkness that I see now feels so much blacker. I can see the daylight in my mind when I remember something but it's all in my mind, I'm not seeing it but in my dreams the light's right in front of my eyes, not in my mind, there's just no darkness at all when I dream.

I very seldom used to ever dream before the accident but since I've been blind I dream almost every night. The strange thing is when I was a boy I was always in the country, when I worked on the farms it was always in the country now all the dreams I have are in and of the country, I never dream of being here in Market Town, ever. I remember the fields as they were back then, the summer time, harvest time, being outside and everywhere is filled with sunshine."

"I was born in 1955 and I guess the time I lived as a small boy then wasn't really that much different to what it had been like in the 1930's. I mean the cars might have got a bit more modern I guess but the thing of it is back then there were still a lot of cars from the 1930's on the road too. People used to economize more, make things last, you'd have to as you couldn't borrow money as easily back then as people seem to do now.

There wasn't as many of these loans and that type of thing back then so people would have to make things like their cars last a lot longer if they could do, if they were still going well. There is though a big difference between then and now, especially the technological differences for people. There's all this stuff now but poverty is still just the same really. All they do is care about making these gadgets and things to be used in every day life and make a lot of money out of people but they don't ever care about peoples living conditions as there is no money to be made in that is there?. It's all about money now.

All the heating we have is these bar heaters. It was very cold last year and the year before. There is no central heating in the house. The gas fire used to work but Mother had that disconnected years ago because you have to pay a standing charge on the gas and she was paying the standard charge on the gas and on the electricity too so figured have the gas disconnected and just used the bar heaters to save money.

It's getting so cold at night now, that's why I have all my coats, I lay one over my body when I'm in my bed and one over my feet then tuck it in under my legs and feet with my stick to try and keep the draft out. It's the cost of things though, the heating everything is so expensive these days."

"When I was first blind I was told that there was being developed these glasses that were sonar and these would make an image on these glasses and there would be this picture over layed upon that and you would have these two receivers place upon the back of the tongue somewhere, on these nerve ending on the back of the tongue and those nerves obviously go up into the brain and the receivers would then transmit the images up into the brain.

I heard they had already tested this on some blind people, sort of guinea pigs and it worked in so much as they could actually see a certain amount indoors with a distance of about 6 or 8 feet I think it was and they could make out things like their furniture I suppose and they could make out their hands, or rather virtual images of them. So this all helped them in the house and making their way about. I'd heard it was going to be released in the public this year but I've never heard any more mention of it. I'm not sure if any of this would have worked upon me anyway though as supposedly I had some brain damage too as a result of the accident but I think to myself that sort of invention really might be able to help many other blind people wouldn't it?. 

There seems to be no interest in that sort of thing, you know, this is the sort of thing I think they would be better of putting money into rather than the Paralympics you know which isn't really having any effect or changing the way disabled people actually live their lives or improving their quality of life at all. I guess all these thoughts and news reports get me down more really as I used to have a little hope that something might come along that might improve things for me, even just slightly in the future but now I know there is no likelyhood that my sight will ever get any better well, it is depressing, it gets me down in the dumps.

The Government doesn't seem to take much interest in these inventions even though they have been developed to some degree the don't seem to take any interest in funding it any further or helping things and helping people and that's what I can't understand. They put all the money into the weapons and munitions and they'll spend any amount of money to bomb countries, saying it's important that they change the regime there because they don't like some certain leader. Not only are people killed, many children are left as orphans, thousands of them very often and there is no caring about them, people get their legs blown off and end up in wheelchairs, many people are blinded through these bombs being dropped and the shrapnel and these cluster bombs and all that type of stuff so their life is finished and they have to live this dreadful lifestyle if you can even call it a lifestyle and what for? ...just because there is an oil well there. 

All the money that the Government spend on weapons and bombs could be spent on research and development for people with disabilities instead of being spent on bombs that cripple, maim and kill other people but instead of helping these people they just make more and more bombs, drop them and create thousands more of them."




Market Town:- Tilney1: Isolation

Posted by J.A. Mortram

"My sleep pattern got fucked up after I was sectioned and put in hospital. I just can't switch my mind off and the loneliness gets to me."

Tilney1's days, a reflection of the selected memories that play with constant repetition within his mind are day upon day the same. He wakes alone from a night spent alone after another day of solitude.

Visits from support workers in recent months have tapered off and his C.P.N (Community Psychiatric Nurse) is only scheduled to visit once every two weeks. The corrosive qualities of isolation are powerful for Tilney1 who's mind is ever alight with ideas, thoughts, dreams, recollections, art and desires with no one to ever share them with.

There's nothing to do in Market Town. Primarily it's filled with pubs, charity shops, hairdressers and bookies. The drop in mental health group arts group where I first documented him in 2009 has been closed for years, no other opportunities have taken it's place and the few people he'd managed to communicate with, share a bond with over the last few months have moved away so the bulk of Tilney1's week is spent alone.

The constant presence of his memories, the intense illusions, auditory or other hallucinations and delusion-like ideas makes meeting and taking that first tentative step in speaking with new people or initiating new relationships incredibly hard to the point of being impossible. The legion of Tilney1's symptoms often command his dialogue resulting in his only being able to communicate these select moments and connections. People can't see past this, they can't see him or have any desire to look beyond this wall of obsessions and union of random events to discover the very real person behind it.

Over time he's become a face in Market Town but one to many people often inseparable from his illness. He's taunted, a sly version of barely veiled bullying "They call me Scrambled egg weirdo, froot loop... like I'm mad and some people go on and on about being a scrounger. Being called these things, especially when you have a very sensitive mind can hurt, it really hurts. It hasn't happened for a while now but I'll never forget when these things were said to me"

Isolation has the effect of turning the volume up on his symptoms, especially the Quasi psychotic episodes and is their perfect breeding ground. Isolation is a weather front swollen with the rains of depression. Tilney1's fear, paranoia, delusions and desperation become trapped in this perfect storm resulting most often in his telephoning the crisis helpline of the city mental hospital for someone, anyone to talk with though this is always tempered by the fear and terror of potential hospitalization. 

In bed, 4pm listening to the football smoking.

"I just lay in bed, smoke and listen to the radio and try to fall asleep. I had the radio on all yesterday and last night trying to fall asleep. When I am on my own I just can't sit in the front room and listen so I just get in my bed." 

'I am a despair comedian' : Tilney1 2012Tilney1 visibly shaken as he recounts the third Police stop and search conducted the night before

Numerous times when Tilney1 can't sleep he will take a walk alone. Sometimes laps alone around Market Town, sometimes to the 24 hour garage for cigarettes or a lighter. Often these walks will be very early in the morning between 1am and 4am. He will walk till he becomes exhausted and then return to his apartment and try again to find sleep. 

Pacing the streets he has on occasion been stopped, searched and questioned by the local Police. These questionings have a profound effect and the repercussions of a third successive stop/search by the Police were evident. Tilney1 was shaken and scared.

"How can I explain reading all the books that I have to the Police? They just stop you and search you for drugs and treat me like some sort of vagrant. I've been stopped three times now. The first time I was just sat on the bench in the churchyard and the asked me what I was doing out at that time of night and was I known by the Police, the next time they searched me and gave me a form about drugs.

This time they stopped me, searched me again. It just gives me paranoia, paranoia about the Police as I'm just a nice sensitive person you know and I have absolutely no reason to be in any trouble with the Police and if I was ever it would totally be through injustice."

It became clear that his own loathing of being medicated made these stop/searches for illicit drugs ever more poignant and distressing to him. His being medicated in an attempt to control his symptoms has always been a problem, the notion of having medicinal drugs within his system as permanent signifier of the failure of his own mental health, a reminder that his illness beats him, his fear of needles and injections. To then be repeatedly stopped and questioned by the Police about narcotics serve only to amplify his feelings of self despair and lack of self worth ever further. 

Trying to watch DVD's in an attempt to quiet the memory loops.

The moving images and complex stories of one of Tilney1's oldest passions, cinema, are now often too difficult to concentrate on. Many times instead of quieting his delusions and soothing his mind watching a movie will trigger a vivid episode of obsessive memories or he might make a random connection between his life and some element of a plot. The connection will be so real, such an apparent truth that any notion of the films story and the reality of his own life will blur and his delusions create a new reality, a new connection that must in some way be speaking to and of him and be totally relevant to his life, memories and events therein.

These thoughts consume and Tilney1's obesessive behavior keeps his mind locked to this newly created link resulting in ever escalating peaks of extreme discomfort, distress and protracted panic attacks. 

'Horror, Horror, Horror' : Tilney1 2012

"When you have an incredible mind, all these thoughts going round and around in your head but you've got no-one to share it with the only thing you can do is art work about it like upon my wall. Remembering every conversation from every work place, conversations I had twenty years ago all going through my head."

Tilney1 looking at his writings and art works upon the wall of his apartment.Pacing the room and smoking."I'm just constantly misunderstood. When I was in Hellesdon (Mental Hospital) and this nurse was constantly staring at me so I said 'What the fuck are you looking at?' and he said 'Travis' making out I was some crazy Travis Bickle character."


"I can't stop smoking, it's an obsession now, I know if did I'd go right back to hospital but it costs so much money and I'm always going overdrawn at the bank but I can't help it, I just can't help it. It's an addiction."

The first administered injections of medication to combat Tilney1's evolving symptoms of Schizotypal and Obsessive behaviors were compounded by three elements, his studying film at a local college, his working nights stacking shelves at the local Tesco supermarket and the incorrectly excessive amount of the medication itself. 

The injections played a pivotal role in Tilney1's life and had a disastrous effect as he became increasingly withdrawn and made it impossible for him to explain what he was enduring within, made it impossible to find any way of opening up and sharing any personal information to the nurse that was routinely injecting him. It also made interacting in any way with those around him equally as difficult so the very personal side effects went un-noticed by the outside world for years but were constsantly torturing him inside.

Added to this the external pressures of coming from a family where anyone not working were demonized as a failure and anyone with an artistic nature merely wasting their time began to weigh heavily upon him.

"What can I say I'd have to go home and my Mum would be going on about John Major being a nice man and all about the Royal family and how great the Conservatives are. It's really difficult. If I had a girlfriend I'd be totally independent from my parents.

My memory you know, people I've known in the past were really into Hip Hop and Bob Marley then I'd have to go home when my brother was there and he'd be saying 'Unfinished Symphony' one of my favourite songs 'Would be a good song if it didn't have a fucking nigger on it' or saying Venus and Serena (Williams) 'niggers go and get your balls'... you know, just a totally fucked up situation. When things like that are said I find it difficult to speak up so I just sit there and sink into despair. I'm not a racist in any way. A lot of my art work deals with how the music you listened to as an adolescent stays with you for life you know, I loved Hip Hop, Basquiat."

Totally unaware of the available help and support for a person diagnosed with his condition Tilney1 was forced to quit his Film studies course and continued to work his night shift job to pay his rent.

Working a zombie shift with its slow erosion of any normal relationship with the reality of peers and the waking day created a chasm that over time was too wide to traverse and led ultimately to the breakdown that instigated his sectioning. 

Though receiving his regular injections no one in any position of knowledge mentioned the availability of D.L.A or Income Support for over a decade.

"How can I be a scrounger when I had no idea Benefits existed? I had no idea about D.L.A, no one told me anything about that and all I wanted to do was leave Tesco's as working night's was doing my head in. I knew it was making me worse but I was so worried I'd be on Job Seekers. I mean, I couldn't take care of myself at all, I'd holes in my shoes, sores on my feet. 

I should have left Tesco's so much sooner than I did and I keep going back to my Film studies, I LOVE film but instead I just continued to work as Tesco's and gave up my studies, just my lack of confidence and the effect those first injections were having on me and my Mum and Dad thinking that everyone should work. I felt guilty that I was studying I guess.

All I knew was the walk to one cafe in Town where I'd order some shitty burger then come back to my apartment, get into bed and try and sleep all day till my night shift began. I never talked to anyone. I couldn't. I wasn't talking to people at work, I wasn't speaking to anyone. I could never sleep properly and when I did I was having these really fucked up dreams, constant gay dreams, I was thinking should I get a boyfriend? I started questioning myself about if I was gay or not but of course I am not it's just I was ridiculously too nice and let D and other people take advantage of me. I had dreams about sex with animals, I couldn't tell anyone this. I could barely talk. It was terrifying, crazy and was all down to those first injections, it was the medication causing all of it... that's the most despairing thing you know?. It's like I didn't know I existed for 10 years.

These new injections I am on are totally different and better but I just don't like injections do I?. After reading  William Burroughs - Junkie all I can do is remember what it was like back then, 'Ghostly nocturnal wanderings and strange sexual encounters', all these things happened to me back then, these events and abuses... I'll forever keep them with me. You look back and there were interesting things that happened too like freaking out staring at a ditch and seeing primroses in there." 

'Nothingness bubble' : Tilney1 2012

"As I constantly analyze things, like when I cracked up a Burtons (Shop) being very close to my Mum, being feminine but at the same time liking hard core rap music. The manager there was always picking on me, asking me when I was going to get my period. I loved hard core rap and the Manic Street Preachers but my Mum just never understood any of these things. It's all in my scrolls of writing. I know I've been unemployable since the third year of school, I mean I couldn't even answer a telephone, I held my Mum's hand behind her back when she told me that my Granny was dead you know? 1980, Joy Division... it's all relevant isn't it?.

I'll go round my parents on Christmas Eve. Like I wrote at Under1Roof last week, I'm NOT a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, I'm a nice and sensitive person but I'll go over there on Christmas Eve and take a Richard Adams book and hope my Dad just doesn't wind me up too much. If I could wish for anything for Christmas it would be to quit smoking.

Now I realise that I do have this incredible memory and I'll forever remember all of these things but still continue to make mistakes and ask myself 'Why did you do that?... why did you do this?'.

It was 2007 when I left Tesco's but I have always going through my head everything that happened, everything that was said, every conversation before they took me away to the mental hospital.

It's like the Manic Street Preachers 'This is my truth, tell me yours, can't speak, won't work, can't sleep, won't work.' you know I was exactly like that and now it's like the future does not exist."


Stories By J. A. Mortram

Simon: Living With Epilepsy: Plans and Sufferance

Plans are so hard to make when you live in a constant state of fear, always at the mercy of a seizure when least expected.

The last weeks had brought a great positive change for Simon. The dosage of his medication had been altered. A result of this was that his seizure rate had dropped dramatically. Freed from the confines of having every action he undertook being invaded by an unforeseen attack his confidence was soaring.

"I've started going to the gym on a Sunday last week. I get bored staying at home just watching TV. So I thought I'd go to the gym and do something interesting and keep fit.


Simon: Living with Epilepsy

Still considered an 'Orphan disease', Epilepsy affects only a small percentage of the population and can still hold a powerful social stigma. It's often misunderstood, kept secret and judged negatively both historically and contemporarily.


I'm 43 years old and I have Epilepsy. I've had Epilepsy since I was 3 years old and the doctors don't know what caused it, no one in the family has it. I take medication; I take it in the morning and at night. Mostly I have fits in the night, in bed. Usually if I have a fit other times I have them in the chair, watching TV in the evening”


Electric Tears and all their Portent

Isolation and the stresses of living in a rough apartment block have a great impact on Tilney1 who endures daily the effects of Schizoid – Obsessive behaviour. He strives to make friends, to connect and have relationships. Once you're ostracised from the mainstream of society it's increasingly difficult to relate to those around you or to find a way back in. Writing, painting, sketching all help to combat the fight of the day to day and it's a war that's been raging all of his adult life, but not a war that's been lost. “I'm just stuck in my mind... not out of It..”




Behind the Photo: Getting Up close and Personal

Posted By Fjona Hill


I wrote in a previous post about my experiences on my first ever documentary story in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which I shot at a workshop being run by Gary Knight (co founder of VII). He'd been firmly telling me all week 'you need to get closer', in every single one-to-one session.

This is the story of how he told me I'd got too close for the liability of his workshop ;-)

I'd eventually ventured into the infamous nightclub on my own, where they displayed their girls for hire behind a glass screen. I caused a little confusion in the club as I am half Chinese so people thought I might be Cambodian - the manager thought I wanted a job. I must have been the most inappropriate, frumpily dressed potential dancing girl!!! It didn't seem to make a difference though, some of their regulars invited me to join them in their private karaoke booth...I took a risk, I went in. My naivety paid off though and they didn't hassle me - just polite conversation in English and a firm no to any photos being taken as they were 'respected members of the community' and didn't want photographic evidence of them snorting coke. It did mean that I met a working girl, S, 3 months into her 'job' after being trafficked by her uncle, who told her family that he would look after her in the city and get her a good job.

Upon my suggestion, I went around the next day to meet S at her flat. During the week, she introduced me into the main dancing room where I'd been told cameras were strictly banned. One night I was sat with a couple of working girls, and a very leery Dutch guy who called himself 'sexy Texy'. I figured the bouncers wouldn't stop me photographing if the client was happy so I snapped some cheesy tourist style shots, 'everyone say cheese' as a tester. No eyebrows raised so I carried on. 

Now, Gary had said that if I was going to shoot a story on prostitution, I had to get in the bedroom with a girl and her customer to really tell the story. But I couldn't guarantee i'd just be able to follow them back to the hotel if I hung around long enough so i just came out direct and told 'Texy' what I wanted to do - and so I found myself in a hotel room with him and two girls.

Gary wanted me to call the piece 'temptation' - I ended up calling it 'reluctance'. The only sober conversation I had with S, was at the interview in the flat. The rest of the time she was drunk, in that heart breaking, chaotic way where it's clear she was just trying to forget what she was now doing for a living. She had resigned herself to a life in prostitution as she didn't see any way out - not without stigma. And so the only place she could find 'family' was within the community of working girls. However, 'temptation' is around too for the girls rather than just the men. I met one of the hostesses at the club - smartly dressed with an air of authority in her black business suit. She wasn't for hire in the club where she worked, rather she helped clients choose the number of the girls for sale behind the glass. But clients would go to expensive lengths to woo her, with 'love' letters and gifts of jewellery for romances outside the club. She took me out one night, with a crowd of bright shiny youth who danced to western songs. As 'S' concluded, some of the girls were in the dancing bars by force, some were seeking an escape from traditional values.

 You can view the full essay 'Reluctance' in the Aletheia Archive.


Stories by Fjona Hill

Chernobyl Remnant

On the morning after the explosion of nuclear reactor no. 4,  residents of Chernobyl were ushered into buses for a ‘temporary’ evacuation. Some would never to return. But others could not hold themselves back, returning to dig up the radioactive potatoes in their back yards, even to collect the front door of their demolished house, any remnant of home. Identity runs deeper than the layer of plutonium staining the soil.

Read more and view the full photo story here >>



Journey Back

Rehab centres are in a commissioning crisis. In the 2 years leading up to the 2010 general elections, rehab centres were closing at the rate of 1 per month.

Residential rehab is often seen as a last resort for clients seeking treatment. Yet behind the use of alcohol can lie long term issues of maladaption, behaviour and relationship problems that cannot always be dealt with effectively in the community setting.

Read more and view the full photo story here >>